Eventually rising!

Draft version 0.18

Last quarter, I took a Marketing class at Stanford called Global Entrepreneurial Marketing (GEM – MS&E 271). The first exam was a strategic thinking paper (STP) that required students to analyze themselves as a startup using a marketing toolkit called DEDART which stands for:

  • Diagnosis Where is this market in its life cycle? How attractive is the market opportunity?
  • Experience How will customers experience the benefits of the new product?
  • Decisions What is your marketing (or business) plan?
  • Analysis Why is your plan the best way to go?
  • Reality Test What are the risks of your plan, and how can we manage those risks?

It was an awesome class and I learned a lot of valuable entrepreneurial lessons from great teachers and professionals while working with a talented team of students.

As part of my STP for the GEM class, I wrote about a mathematical model that I have been thinking about as a bonus exhibit. This post is about that model which I called “Eventually Rising“. Here goes:

Bonus Exhibit I: Eventually Rising 

Given my engineering background, I often like to use mathematical concepts to illustrate my life view. I view constant change in life like a sinusoidal function that keeps falling and rising over time. A lot of people hate change and try to prevent it from happening, or they deny it or try to stop it once it happens. However, as John C. Maxwell once said “Change is inevitable. Growth is optional.” Success and failure are two examples of change, but unlike change, success and failure are not constant and they are not inevitable.

While change is inevitable, it’s not always forced upon us. Most of the time, we are the primary change inducers in our own lives. The sine and cosine functions are two functions that alternate between a peak positive value equals 1 (maxima – ultimate positive change) and a bottom negative value equaling -1 (minima – ultimate negative change). We all want more successes (maximas) and less failures (minimas) through our actions.

Our actions cause change to the world around us for better or for worse. In an ideal world, we could ensure that change is always positive and all outcomes of our actions are desirable. The world of mathematics offers a great function that represents this ideal world and that is the tangent function. The tangent function is a strictly monotonically increasing function over the period [-π/2, π/2] or [-180°, 180°]. Check Bonus Exhibit III for the definition of monotonic and non-monotonic functions.

Source: http://goo.gl/erVwO

I especially like the fact that the tangent function is the result of dividing two constantly changing functions that results in two exaggerated values -∞ and +∞ on the edges . We often hear, someone changed a 180 degrees and turned his or her life around. That’s exactly what the tangent function does, it goes from the absolute infinite bottom (-∞) to the absolute unattainable maximum (+∞) over a 180 degrees.

In Reid Hoffman and Ben Casanocha’s book, “The Startup of YOU“, they talk about introducing small risks to one’s life on regular basis to build up more resilience and achieve stability through low levels of volatility. That is the division of two changing functions to achieve growth :) Its exactly like dividing the sine function by the cosine function. If we introduce changes to our lives at the right frequency and at the right magnitude, we will get a net positive constant growth. In reality, getting it right every single time is probably impossible. But if you if we introduce small changes to your life as a habit, you will see a lot of benefit.

We have to be careful though. Simply changing sin(x) into sin(-x) will result in a monotonically decreasing function (the exact opposite of what we want):

sin(-x)_div_cos(x)

* sin(-x) / cos(x) using http://www.onlinefunctiongrapher.com/

Or if you change the frequency of the changes, for example by dividing sin(-2x) by cos(0.2x), you will get a very bumpy ride:

sin(-2x)_div_cos(0.2x)

* sin(-2x) / cos(0.2x) using http://www.onlinefunctiongrapher.com/

We don’t live in an ideal world and we are never really at -∞ and we will never reach +∞. However, the lesson that I do take from that ideal model is that we should always strive to be growing. Its hard to be monotonically increasing, its probably impossible to be strictly monotonically increasing, but we can be eventually increasing. We are not always able to induce the right amount of change at the right time. Sometimes, change is induced upon us in ways that we have no control over. By investing in yourself, learning new things, gaining new skills, and making new connections as a habit, you maximize the chances of introducing the right change at the right time. When undesirable changes happen, you will take a fall. Those undesirable changes can be external (an earthquake for example) or internal (we all make mistakes).

That’s the math and philosophy behind the term “Eventually Rising“. The following image is a good visual representation of an eventually rising plot:

GoogleStock

* Source: this site was tracking Google share value since inception

By focusing on our own constant growth, we may be able to neutralize the undesirable change around us and turn it around to be rising just like the tangent function. By constantly taking any potential failure and flipping it a 180 degrees and making a success out of it.

Every company, large, medium or small, publicly traded or a private startup has its ups and downs. The same applies to people. No one is always winning or always losing. You want the net average over time to be heading up.

Bonus Exhibit II: Functions of constant change (sine, cosine, and tangent)

The Sine and Cosine functions represent the inevitable and constant changes in our lives.

Source: http://goo.gl/erVwO

The tangent function = Sin(x) / Cos(x) over the period [-π/2, π/2] or [-180°, 180°] is a strictly monotonically increasing function.

Bonus Exhibit III: Monotonic and nonmonotonic functions 

“A function  is called monotonically increasing if for all  and  such that  one has , so  preserves the order (see the left figure below). Likewise, a function is called monotonically decreasing if, whenever , then , so it reverses the order (see the right figure). If the order  in the definition of monotonicity is replaced by the strict order , then one obtains a stronger requirement. A function with this property is called strictly increasing. Again, by inverting the order symbol, one finds a corresponding concept called strictly decreasing. Functions that are strictly increasing or decreasing are one-to-one (because for  not equal to , either  or  and so, by monotonicity, either  or , thus  is not equal to .)” *Source: this Wikipedia page 

The following figure is a monotonically increasing function. It is strictly increasing on the left and right while just non-decreasing in the middle.

*Source: this Wikipedia page 

The following figure is a monotonically decreasing function. It is strictly decreasing on the left and right while just non-increasing in the middle.

* Source: this Wikipedia page 

The following plot compares a nonmonotonic function to a monotonic function:

A job matching startup in Jordan

ShababJobs.com is the first online job-matching portal in the Arab World to specialize in part-time & shift-based jobs. Shabab means youth in Arabic. I met with the founder Fadi Sawaqedy and talked to him in detail about his experience founding and leading a technology based startup in Amman.

In the US, job sites like Monster.com have a dedicated section for part time jobs. SimplyHired.com just uses search filters to enable users to look for part time jobs. Only Snagajob has a differentiated focus on part time and shift-based jobs.

ShababJobs understands the unique recruitment  needs of companies in industries that are highly dependent on shift-based and part time employees. They focus on empowering employers to find qualified candidates that are a 100% fit. They enable recruiters in industries such as Retail, Fast Food, Apparel, Customer Service and many others to effectively target job seekers when they subscribe to Shababjobs.

ShababJobs has built tailored screening and assessment tools to enable employers to filter and evaluate hundreds of applications with ease. It also offers Facebook integration so that job seekers can search and apply for jobs directly from employer’s Facebook page.

Business model:

Unlike traditional job boards, ShababJobs does not charge per job posting (PPP – pay per post approach). The business model is tailored to meet the specific needs of the employers who need part-time/shift-based workers. Employers have unlimited job postings. They can announce when the need arises. They only pay for applicants that match the job requirements, this model gives those employers a much higher return on their job advertising costs.

Market size & description:

In Jordan around 70% of the population between the ages of 15 to 24 use the Internet, a number that continues to grow rapidly.

* http://www.insightsmena.com/

The number of job seekers applying for positions online is also growing. It may come as a surprise but actually, employees with LESS than a Bachelor’s degree represent 74% of the total Jordanian workforce. 68% of these haven’t completed high school!!

* Jordan Ministry of Labor annual report 2011

  • Workers under the age of 24 filled around 209,000 jobs in Jordan in 2011.

  • 26% of newly created jobs are from the Services Sector, a total of 17,160 jobs in 2011.

I love this startup and feel that they are actually making a difference. Fadi looked at the market figures and did something that makes sense, adds value, and solves a real problem. Things are not all rosy as its commonly the case with startups.

Challenges:

Despite a clear focus on the local market and securing paying customers including employers like Ikea, Subway, and Pepsi, ShababJobs is still facing many challenges:

  1. Limited number of mature investors (Angel and VCs). Many investors have unrealistic expectations of startup investments. They expect the startup to reach profitability and get a positive return on their investment in a short amount of time without taking too much risk. ShababJobs has paying customers and a proven business model but still its hard for Fadi to secure a series A venture round. This is mainly due to the fact that most VCs here are finance/accounting guys that care about ROIs and fund performance. Unlike Silicon Valley, where the VCs are usually serial entrepreneurs or seasoned industry executives with strong technical/business backgrounds.

  2. Within the few Angels and VCs in the market, only a couple focus on early stage technology startups. Yet there is a large number of technology startups spawning in the region. Many startups, few sources of capital, lots of competition.

  3. The current economic situation makes people more resistant to change and less likely to adopt new solutions. Fadi has seen this in both the public and private sectors.

  4. There is a lot of hype and buzz around startups and entrepreneurship in the MENA region. However, there is no real metrics to differentiate good startups from bad ones. Feels a lot like Silicon Valley during the dot com era (lots of activity and hype but no real game changers). I wish the focus shifts into actually solving real problems, problems that people do care about, that add value to society and creates jobs.

  5. Closing an investment round takes 6-12 months. That’s like 6-12 years for a startup.

  6. Finally, government regulations around e-commerce and online payments are still unclear and that introduces an unknown risk that can be a huge blocker in the near future.

I hope that entrepreneurs in Jordan can start focusing more on actual problems that people are facing everyday instead of trying to copy international successes and replicating them in the region. I wish Fadi and ShababJobs the best in taking their company to the next stage. If you anyone is interested in talking to Fadi, contact me and I can make the intro.

By Moh Posted in Tech

A different view on Religion vs Atheism

Last year, I participated in a little contest that was on prizes.org. The Prizes.org site was an experiment that did not attract enough users so its shutting down. I figured I would make a post out of one of the contests that I participated in and won on the site.

One university student called Gabe posted the following contest questions about religion vs atheism:

Why are there so many people who cling to Religion? Why do they refuse to believe science? Why do the majority of scientists choose to believe there is no god? What has kept Religion around for so long?

The contest had 137 entries and generated a lot of comments and discussions back and forth between users. I took a stab at explaining my viewpoint and submitted an entry. This post is a copy of what I posted on Prizes.org.

I recommend reading this post with an open mind and try to put yourself in the mindset of the opposing side. I am a practicing Muslim and that definitely influenced my viewpoint, but I tried to be as objective as possible. Here is what I wrote in reply to the questions raised by Gabe:

I want to take a different approach. To start off, let’s agree on basic terminology and a few assumptions so that we don’t go around in infinite circles.

0- Theories are either false or true until proven to be one or the other. Proofs are measurable, repeatable, and consistent at all times. Ideally, facts do not need proofs (for example, humans need to breathe to stay alive, that is a fact that does not need to be proven – you would hope). Throughout history, humans were not able to accept many facts until they were proven beyond reasonable doubt (for example, Earth is not the center of the universe). We need to differentiate between facts and theories. Facts are proven beyond reasonable doubt that they are true. Any theory that is unproven or could hold the slightest possibility of being untrue is not a fact.

In my analysis, I will refrain from comparing science and religion, since many scientists are religious. I will compare Atheism and Religion to be more accurate.

1- Religion has not been able to prove the existence of God. Religion asserts the existence of God as a fact although since its not proven, using our terms above, the existence of God is a theory.

2- Atheism has not been able to prove the non-existence of God. Atheist scientists assert the non-existence of God as a fact because they have not been able to prove God’s existence. The non-existence of God has not been proven beyond reasonable doubt. So again using our terms above, the non-existence of God is a theory not a fact.

Religion tries to address to a fundamental trait of human nature. Monotheistic religions referred to this trait as the devil. Modern Self-Help literature, Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucianism referred to this as mastering one’s own desires and impulses.

For example, we all know that we should exercise and eat healthy. A healthy lifestyle is proven to reduce the risk of many diseases and improve the quality of life. That is a scientific fact. Not a theory. However, many people do not eat healthy and do not exercise despite knowing 100% that they should.

Given that long intro, here are is my attempt to address your questions: 

Why are there so many people who cling to Religion?

Because there are things we can’t explain. Deep down inside, many people feel that religion re-enforces the basic goodness in human nature. That goodness you feel when you see a child smiling or a family reunion. Universally accepted goodness is what I am referring to. Fairness, justice, mercy, moderation, loyalty, honesty are good values in all cultures. Religion re-enforces these values. At the same time, Religion tries to regulate human emotions and actions. Succumbing to greed, lust, or violence would cause societies to break and even self-destruct.

Why do they refuse to believe science?

Science has not proven anything concrete about the existence of God. So religious people are not really refusing anything (again using our terms above).

Why do the majority of scientists choose to believe there is no god?

There is no proof. Scientist do not like to bet so much in their lives on mere theories. Many scientists are practical and until there is a solid proof, why bother!

What has kept Religion around for so long?

Religion helps many people keep their lives balanced. The optimistic view of religion sees religion for its intentions. In that optimistic view, the intentions or objectives of religion are to balance human life and make the world a better place.

The pessimistic view sees religion by looking at the actions of people in the name of religion. No religion asks its followers to kill innocent people. Some followers on the other hand, unfortunately, killed many innocents in the name of their religion.

As I wrote earlier, the contest had 137 entries and many of them had good points. The comments on each entry were pretty interesting and sometimes very heated. You can check them out on the contest page (remember it will be removed soon as the Prizes.org site is shutting down).

By Moh Posted in Life
Video

Google Drive is out

If you have not heard, Google Drive released. Now you can upload your files to Google Drive, sync them across all your devices, and share them securely with others. I’m a little biased, having worked on this launch, but biases aside, Google Drive is really awesome. You get 5GB for free just by signing up. Never send email attachments again and get confused with which copy is the latest.

Drive also comes with a web viewer interface that allows you to view over 16 file types in the browser (even on your smartphone or tablet). And yes, the viewer supports all Microsoft Office file types. Enough talking, you should try it out for yourself and see what I’m talking about :)   Check it here.

Libyans fight for freedom and Gaddafi solves the one of world’s mysteries

I don’t whether I should laugh or cry. Libyan peaceful protests are being faced with extreme violence.

A while back, the same Gaddafi behind the violence and killings gave the long awaited answer behind the origin of Cola.

If Hosni Mubarak had stepped down on day 1 of the Egyptian revolution, he would have probably been remembered as a progressive hero. Now he is synonymous with a boyfriend who just does not get that its over. All his actions and belongings will be scrutinised and all the dirt will be revealed.

Gaddafi has a lot more dirt to cover and his brutal regime has caused a lot of suffering to the Libyan people. If anything, he should know that this time around, it is different. You are not a leader if you don’t have anyone to lead. Saddam thought he was invincible. Mubarak thought it was a couple of days and all would go back to normal. Why would not these guys get it?

The story of Wael Ghonim

I have been extremely busy since I started working at Google last year so I have not been posting much. Wael Ghonim – a fellow Googler, an Arabic brother, and a freedom fighter – has been released from arrest in Egypt. Here is a video of his first interview after he was released:


This is the truth behind the Internet revolution in Egypt. No foreign interference. No Muslim brotherhood. The video tells much more than I can ever write.

Half a life نصفُ حياة

This is a great script by Khalil Gibran that I came across. I found an OK translation below.

 

لا تجالس أنصاف العشاق، ولا تصادق أنصاف الأصدقاء، لا تقرأ لأنصاف الموهوبين، لا تعش نصف حياة، ولا تمت نصف موت، لا تختر نصف حل، ولا تقف في منتصف الحقيقة، لا تحلم نصف حلم، ولا تتعلق بنصف أمل، إذا صمتّ.. فاصمت حتى النهاية، وإذا تكلمت.. فتكلّم حتى النهاية، لا تصمت كي تتكلم، ولا تتكلم كي تصمت.

إذا رضيت فعبّر عن رضاك، لا تصطنع نصف رضا، وإذا رفضت.. فعبّر عن رفضك، لأن نصف الرفض قبول.. النصف هو حياة لم تعشها، وهو كلمة لم تقلها، وهو ابتسامة أجّلتها، وهو حب لم تصل إليه، وهو صداقة لم تعرفها.. النصف هو ما يجعلك غريباً عن أقرب الناس إليك، وهو ما يجعل أقرب الناس إليك غرباء عنك، النصف هو أن تصل وأن لاتصل، أن تعمل وأن لا تعمل، أن تغيب وأن تحضر.. النصف هو أنت، عندما لا تكون أنت.. لأنك لم تعرف من أنت. النصف هو أن      لا تعرف من أنت .. ومن تحب ليس نصفك الآخر.. هو أنت في مكان آخر في الوقت نفسه

نصف شربة لن تروي ظمأك، ونصف وجبة لن تشبع جوعك، نصف طريق لن يوصلك إلى أي مكان، ونصف فكرة لن تعطي لك نتيجة.. النصف هو لحظة عجزك وأنت لست بعاجز.. لأنك لست نصف إنسان. أنت إنسان.. وجدت كي تعيش  الحياة، وليس كي تعيش نصف حياة

جبران خليل جبران

Do not love Half lovers .. do not entertain Half friends .. do not indulge in works of the Half talented, do not live Half a life .. do not die a Half death ..

If you choose silence, then be silent .. when you speak, do so until you are finished .. do not silence yourself to say something, and do not speak to be silent .. if you accept, then express it bluntly, do not mask it .. if you refuse then be clear about it, for an ambiguous refusal is but a weak acceptance ..

Do not accept Half a solution .. do not believe Half truths .. do not dream Half a dream .. do not fantasize about Half hopes ..

Half a drink will not quench your thirst .. Half a meal will not satiate your hunger .. Half the way will get you no where .. Half an idea will bear you no results ..

Your other Half is not the one you love .. it is you in another time yet in the same space .. it is you when you are not .. a life you didn’t live, a word you have not said, a smile you postponed, a love you have not had, a friendship you did not know .. to reach and not arrive .. work and not work .. attend only to be absent .. what makes you a stranger to them closest to you, and they strangers to you ..

The Half is a mere moment of inability .. but .. you are able .. for you are not Half a being .. you are a Whole that exists to live a Life .. not Half a life.

Renewal again – The 7 Challenges of 2010

Well … I guess I got hooked on renewal challenges. Except, this time around, I am facing 7 major challenges all at once. I don’t think I have been more challenged in my entire life. I’m trying to work out everyday to prevent stress from taking over.

Lately, I have been posting about a lot of things that have nothing to do with my professional life so I took my blog off from LinkedIN.

The year is coming to an end pretty soon, but between now and then, I have got more than enough to keep me busy. I would have liked to post the 7 challenges in this post, but some things, I can’t talk about yet. We have about 8 weeks left in the year. My goal is to knock out all 7 challenges by then. Unfortunately, a couple of those challenges are completely out of my control so I will do what I can with what I have.

It may all sound extremely vague, but it will all make sense once I can talk more about the challenges and the circumstances around them. All I can say for now is stay tuned for more. I promise it will be worth reading :)